Memorial to Remember: Lukas Neraas
Timeliness is not always my strong suit… Many of my updates during Luke’s illness were forced, given the fact that things were changing so quickly that if I didn’t post what I’d already partially composed, it would soon be old news. Clearly, life on that front has slowed down – as have my updates… So, I hope you’ll forgive the extreme tardiness of this belated, but heartfelt Thank You!
In all honesty, this post began approximately 6 months after Luke passed away; I can’t speak to exactly when it was abandoned. I’m sure wanted to revive & publish it for last year’s anniversary. I can only think it didn’t come to fruition at that time because Elsa & I were living in our guest yurt then, while I attended to some necessary house upkeep (sanding the floors, etc.). I was hauling water, making fires, cooking on a propane stove & living out of a cooler during Elsa’s first 6 weeks of kindergarten – life was busy and the internet connection was sparse — excuses, excuses. After Luke’s first death-iversary passed, the pressure was off and so another year has passed… I appreciate your consideration in this overly late, but no less heartfelt note. I have opted to leave and augment what was written, now over a year ago – because though these wounds are less fresh today, it’s important to know what lies beneath ever-thickening scar tissue.
The photos below illustrate the day I spent honoring Luke one year after his passing. The day entailed a solo hike up Table Mountain and a small shrine in front of the Grand Teton. It was a good place to contemplate life and death, as a Raven danced on the rock beside me.
Thank you to all those who gathered in Teton Valley on October 24, 2015 – from near and far; and to those that couldn’t make it, but were here in spirit. The day, venue, friends, family & fire could have only been made more perfect were our missing guest of honor able to join us. The force of the whole was terrific. The number of people overwhelming. I’m sure I didn’t see you all and I know I didn’t hug you all. However looking over the sea of friends was nothing, if not supportive. I just wanted the proximity of having you all so close to last for so much longer – to get see each of you, even for a moment. Your support has been & continues to be an incredible well of strength.
There is a long list of friends and volunteers who made the venue, music, mic, ceremony, decor, food, shelters, chairs, tables, kids’ tent, dinner, fire, and memories all so top-notch. Your physical and financial help made this event what it was and I can’t thank you enough for your support, action, conviction, and follow-through. It was as beautiful & memorable as it could have been. I’m so appreciative of the effort and ease with which so many were readily hosted to honor Luke. Thank you!
With over 300 gathered together, from as far as Alaska – it was one hell of a group hug for this amazing man. Luke would have been nothing, if not proud. I know he was. He loved his people and was an ever generous, genuine and willing friend – always up to help or for an adventure of any size. I hope we all continue to carry a little Luke forward into our daily lives, and that he will live on in that way — that we will all be more willing, say yes and go wholeheartedly. It’s important.
I feel like I’ve fallen behind in life – on a multitude of levels. I’d like to catch up, but I don’t begin to know where to start… except that I am. Slowly. Ever so slowly.
And yet it feels like every day is beyond full – just like everyone’s lives. There’s just not enough time. I know the things I “should” do to slow life down. I don’t know why, most of the time, I don’t. I always feel better when I do…
I’ve responded to only the most necessary personal emails since Luke died, for the last 6 months – maybe longer… If you’re someone who’s reached out, I so appreciated each message, story, photo & note – you name it – truly I only wish for more… My thank you list is long and mostly unwritten.
I believe it’s the weight of the response that has stymied mine. I, also, don’t know what to say.
I still feel like he could walk through the door any minute. Will, walk through the door in a few days. I, too, can’t really imagine he’s gone.
Forever is just too hard to visualize. So unbelievable. So unreal. So long.
The above is from the original post and I’d like to speak to the fact that it felt like Luke could walk through the door at any minute or like he was in the room next door – not in a creepy way, more of a comfortable way… I completely understand if that doesn’t make sense. Regardless, I didn’t think about it much, but it did feel that way. Frankly, I didn’t mind.
In November, a little over a year after Luke’s death, I reached out to a friend of a friend, a psychic medium. It was an amazing experience whatever your beliefs. There was solace in feeling Luke’s presence, sense of humor and self – and messages for both of us to convey. What came to light through this interaction was more though – apparently, he had yet to step into the light – joining his spirit & soul. He was still wandering the tunnel of life, looking over past experiences and being near. She said he was close to making the move, but that it might be helpful if we did it together – help him take the final, necessary step beyond. Just like Luke to make me do this again… Really?! Saying goodbye the first time was one of the single hardest things I’ve had to do in my life and now I need to do it again… We made a date in December and did the deed. I won’t go into the details, but in the end, he high-fived his way into an abyss of love and light – rejoining his spirit & soul. She said he’d be stronger for it, that it’s the evolution of the process, the next, necessary step in the cycle of death.
I’ll be honest. It feels different. Since that day, it’s felt like he’s gone in a more real way.
Then there’s today, tomorrow – the future. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves… No visual on a future just yet. But there’s always today. Every day.
Things that have to be done, meals that have to be made – you know the drill. Plus life plans, packing up past lives, playing with a five year old (6 now!), ect. It’s a long list and plenty to keep a person busy.
I still say “we” sometimes. I also don’t think I’m talking about we or our being Elsa’s and mine, but Luke’s and mine – Our house. Our car. Our boat.
It’s so hard that everything ours is now more or less mine – along with the responsibility, logistics and brute strength that go along with ownership and life.
Turns out Luke spoiled me. I knew this. So did he.
The first winter after Luke’s passing was the first time I snow-blowed, and frankly, I still didn’t embrace it. My darling sister took control of snow duties for the most part. In my second winter, on my own, I typically resorted to shoveling after not being able to start the snowblower on multiple occasions… I do have resolve to embrace the snowblower more fully this winter, but I also have patience and complete knowledge that this is a step by step program, and for some reason, some steps are bigger than others and take longer to achieve.
When the first Spring rolled around, I really, really did not want to mow the lawn – a lot. Only when a neighbor sweetly came over to get the mower started and then left, was I forced to take advantage of the moment (aka- a running mower) and get ‘er done. Two years later, I can troubleshoot to some degree when it doesn’t fire up immediately. The first year I mowed everything, though never as well, in Luke’s honor. Today, I have more meadow, a lot less lawn, and can accomplish the task with a tank of gas and one free hour – versus 5 hours last summer!
When I met Luke, I was 22 – only 4 years out from having grown up in a two-room cabin (with no running water or electricity), outside of Butte, MT. I’d grown up hauling & chopping wood on a daily basis, chopping a hole in the creek ice to get water over the winter, hauling 5-gallon buckets of water to the house, showering outside (when I wasn’t at a friends’), and using an outhouse. I was tough enough. Likely could have been tougher, but clearly tough enough.
My sister was 12 when I first brought Luke to the cabin. She and my “unreal” dad promptly made up a song for him – “Icky the Icthiologist”. He saw, knew, and embraced my life & family for 15 years – spoiling me along the way.
Now Mark, my unreal dad, is gone as of February 2016, and the cabin is forever quieter for his lack of presence. Luke is gone, unbelievably before that – and with them both, so many shared memories, stories, and adventures. The end of a chapter. The end of an era.
The layout of the ceremony spoke to the task at hand. There was an ascension to the area of the ceremony. A large, sloped field allowed for contemplation of the suffering involved with death before funneling everyone through an arch: realization and acceptance of this new reality sans Luke. Somehow it sunk in a little deeper and felt more like an actual fact with group recognition. We continued to meander, up a sweet and winding Aspen path to a sun-filled meadow lined in haybale pews and sweet live music drifting on lazy October beams.
People gathered. So many friends. It was overwhelming in the best of ways. Amazing friends and family took the mic and spoke of our beloved. I wish that I had words at the time – any words, strength at least enough to get up before you all and look out on the field of your shining faces and thank you. I wanted to, but also couldn’t. I was empty – completely worn out.
After the beautiful ceremony, we descended back to reality. Slowly, making our way across the sloping field after siphoning through the arch – again, accepting as we step through the arch that we’ve altogether recognized the death of a person, the passing of a spirit. Walking across the field we have time to take it all in. As is with life, some of us have lingered and taken longer to cross this field than others, but all of us must land firmly in the grips of the gathering – food, drink, and community being necessary and positive realities.
Certainly and unsurprisingly, I’ve been one of the stragglers across the field. Never eager for change of this sort and wondering if I couldn’t somehow singlehandedly keep the past alive. Clearly, it’s not possible. As they say, change is the only constant – like it, or not.
Two years later, the floors of our home are redone (and re-scratched), and the walls are all finally painted – some a new color. I have a new job. Elsa is in first grade and in a Spanish Immersion program. So much has changed – as is inevitable.
I have only recently crossed, or more honestly, am in the process of crossing the threshold. Hoping for the future – I know not what, but hoping nonetheless. Knowing we met for good reason and lived our given time to the best of our abilities. Remembering all the good times – so many wonderful adventures with so many great people. I’m so entirely grateful for what we each brought to the table and for the communities our union brought into each of our lives. I’m even more proud and know Luke is too, how well these communities have continued to carry both Elsa and I, as we ebb and flow in the aftermath of this reality – one slow river bend at a time.